"I'm working an eight hour day next Thursday."
"That's good," I said, intent on reading the latest issue of Vanity Fair.
"Mom, you didn't hear what I said," my 20something persisted. "I'm not working my usual three hour shift--he scheduled me for an eight hour day."
"I heard you, Honey. Eight hours a week won't hurt you."
"Won't hurt? You think that's a good thing--being a go-fer for my Art teacher for eight hours straight? Did you ever hear of throbbing feet or varicose veins?"
"Yes, Sweetheart, I have heard of the tortuous blood vessels, but you can get saline shots, the veins collapse, and you're not disfigured."
"Not disfigured? Is that your yardstick? I can work until I'm disfigured? Don't you care that I could get scoliosis and need to have a rod put in my back?"
Count to ten, hold your tongue, 25 is the new 15, I said under my breath.
"As I understand it, Darling, scoliosis develops in early adolescence so I think you're out of the woods. And I do care about spinal curvatures and, more importantly, I care about you."
"Well, it sure doesn't sound like it. Aren't you worried that I could get a collapsed uterus from being on my legs all day and never be able to bear children? That no man will ever want to marry someone who's physically flawed--that I could die a spinster painting landscapes in a nursing home?"
Her losses were escalating so fast I feared she'd have nothing left for the final chapter of her book I Am a Prima Donna.
"Yes, Angel, I do worry. I worry that if you don't get over your aversion to an eight hour day, you'll be living at home until you're menopausal. That, my love, is a very scary thought."
"Mother, you are heartless. I can't believe you support child labor."
"Child labor? I was married at your age, for God's sake. It's time you joined the real world."
"Don't try to change the subject, Mom. This isn't about just one eight hour day. I'm also on the schedule for eight hours next Thursday."
"Eight hours next week too?" I said, lapsing into my Dolly Parton voice. "Well ain't that sad. You should just put the paramedics on alert right now in case you pass out from fatigue."
"You're being sarcastic, Mother. Go ahead mock me, laugh at me all you want, but I'm under a great deal of pressure. If I'm chained to a job, I can't have a social life. Michelangelo probably had a better social life than I do even though he was gay and had to be in the closet."
"Look, I know eight hours a week cramps your style but, and you need to sit down for this, many people work eight hours a day on a regular basis, back to back, five days a week."
"I'm well aware of that, but I don't intend to be a slave."
"Slave? What are you talking about? A forty-hour work week is not fun, but living in a cardboard box is not exactly a blast either."
"You're suggesting I'm going to be living under a bridge? Thanks for the vote of confidence. When I finish my degree, Sarah, Kirsten and I plan to share an apartment in the John Hancock Center."
The Hancock Center? I didn't want to disillusion her by mentioning that, on their combined salaries, they couldn't afford a closet in the skyscraper.
"Interesting, but first you really should graduate."
"Don't you think I know that? That's why I'm trying to concentrate on my studies, but I can't do that if I'm always working."
"Always working? Eight hours a week? Are you serious?"
"Yes, I'm serious. Eight hours in one day is challenging because I really don't like my job. I mean working in the art studio is okay, but it's not my passion."
"Passion? Well if you'd quit changing majors like that Lohan girl changes rehabs, you just might finish up and follow your bliss. One semester you're majoring in Art Design, the next in Painting, then Art & Media Management, whatever that is. You probably won't believe this, Snow White, but some kids finish college in four years."
"You should be glad I'm staying in the School of Fine Arts. My friend, Ian, switched from Electrical Engineering to Dance. He transferred from Princeton to Juilliard in his senior year and he had a full-ride at Princeton."
"Well his parents must be brain-damaged to allow that. If you switch majors one more time, I swear your father is going to say teacher or nurse--take your pick."
"Mom, I could never be a nurse. They're on their feet eight hours a day. It's a very stressful job. I want a job where I can relax."
Was I watching a rerun of an ancient TV show where unsuspecting victims were placed in ridiculous situations while a hidden camera recorded their reactions? Surely someone was going to jump out and shout Smile, You're on Candid Camera.
"Relax? Sweetie, I have another news flash for you. One goes to a spa to relax. One goes to work so she can buy food, keep a roof over her head-- you know, the finer things in life."
"Yes, and many have heart-attacks before they're forty or they die of mesothelioma from breathing in coal dust."
"Well, you needn't worry about that. Last time I applied they weren't hiring at the coal mines."
"And that's another reason I'm in no hurry to graduate. There are no decent jobs out there. I should rush through college to work at Steak n' Shake? I don't think so. Are you aware there is a recession out there?"
"Really? You're kidding? I thought your dad lost our retirement nest egg in Las Vegas."
"Don't worry about retirement, Mom. If you fall on hard times, you can count on me to catch you. That's why I want to go to Florence to get my master's degree."
Bless her--her heart was in the right place--it was her head that was on another planet. The vision of being caught in a safety net that was one huge hole flashed before me, but it was immediately replaced by flares at the words Florence and master's degree in the same sentence.
"Florence? In Italy? You're joking, right?" Please, God, let the Candid Camera man jump out now. "Tell me you're kidding."
"No, I have to get my master's degree--a B.A. in Art is practically worthless. Do you remember when we were in Italy and I met Gianmarco? He suggested I do graduate work in Art Restoration at the Florence Academy. He said you can set your own hours. Can you imagine what it would be like to restore a Caravaggio?"
"Caravaggio?" I was setting some kind of record for responding to comments with a single word of incredulity. "Caravaggio? Did that Gian gigolo tell you how to finance this adventure?"
"Mother, you-are-putting-a-price-on-passion?" she wailed, as though I'd suggested she sell her firstborn, forgetting that she'd never bear children due to her fallen uterus. "That is soooo cynical. You follow a passion, not finance a passion!"
"You know, Cinderella, unless you find a glass slipper in your bottomless closet, you might have to put in a few eight hour days in order to follow AND finance your passion. Even Michelangelo had to make tough choices. Sculpting was his passion--he considered the Sistine Chapel project a huge distraction, but he needed to pay his bills."
"That's exactly my point," she said. "Michelangelo compromised, and he was chained to scaffolding for the next forty-years. What was he thinking?"